Key to exam success is not wealth or social class but parents who help with homework

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Having a parent who takes an active interest in a child's education is eight times more important in securing good exam results than wealth or social class, research claims.

Children whose parents are involved in their schooling do up to 25 per cent better than pupils with families who are not involved, according to the study for the educational charity the Campaign for Learning.

Dr Leon Feinstein from the London School of Economics estimated the statistical importance of active parenting from the findings. He said: "The interest that parents take in education is much more important than the parents' own education, social class or income in explaining how well the children are likely to do.

"This does not mean that these other factors do not matter, because they may, in turn, explain parental interest. However, the results do imply that it is through parental interest that social class impacts upon education. Interested parents make a huge difference, regardless of class or income."

The discovery comes as the Government steps up its drive to break the link between underachievement and social class. Writing for The Independent last month, David Miliband, the schools minister, warned that Britain's educational problem remained "that birth rather than worth still counts for too much".

While three-quarters of young people born into the top social classes achieve at least five good GCSE passes, the figure for those born at the bottom is less than one third.

Dr Feinstein, using an index of educational success ranging from 0 to 100, found that parental interest could boost pupils' results by up to 24.4 percentage points. By contrast, the combined advantage of coming from an advantaged social background and having parents who stayed on at school after the age of 16 was only worth three percentage points.

His findings were drawn from an analysis of the exam results of 3,000 children who took part in the National Child Development Study, a continuing project. The report, Give Your Child A Better Chance, was published to highlight Family Learning Weekend which starts on Friday.

The report adds weight to a study published in June for the Department for Education and Skills which concluded that home learning was the biggest influence on the achievement of children aged three to seven.

But Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University and author of Paranoid Parenting, urged parents to leave education to teachers and to concentrate on creating a stimulating home environment and making their children feel loved. "I do not think that parents make the best teachers of their children because they are too emotionally involved.

"The idea that we can solve the problems of education and society by turning parents into part-time teachers is, quite frankly, a cop out."